The stability of two-dimensional interstellar gas flow passing through a spiral potential has been investigated. The background flow is assumed to move in a tightly wound potential, which may be regarded as external or self-generated. The unperturbed flow, which may be time dependent, is self-gravitating and satisfies the Roberts equations of motion. A polytropic, single-fluid assumption has been used. Magnetic effects are not considered. The motivation behind this work is to try to understand how much of the diversity of spiral arm morphology can be understood by large scale gas dynamical processes alone. To this end, it is suggested that spurring and feathering, and forming molecular cloud complexes may be closely related in the sense of having dynamically similar origins.